Does the idea of a headset saving my life seem a bit dramatic to you? If so, you've clearly never seen me play a first-person shooter. It's not that I don't have experience: I've been blasting through hallways since Wolfenstein 3D, onward through Doom and Quake and so on and so forth. I've done my time in the Goldeneyes, Halos, and Call of Duties of this world.
My problem: I never really played multiplayer.
Not until recently, anyway, when multiplayer became a bigger part of the gaming experience than single-player, when the online component became an almost mandatory extension of game design. I often enjoy multiplayer, especially when playing co-op with friends (my best friend and I recently went through Halo: Reach together—his first time ever to complete a Halo game), but the competitive experience has consistently left me frustrated and dejected.
Is it a matter of reflexes, then? Do I just lack the ability to condition my mind to respond subconsciously to rapid-fire stimuli? Well, as an accomplished martial artist and one skilled at sparring, I don't think that's likely.
No, my greatest weakness is tactical. I just have a hard time figuring out how to plan my moves. Unfortunately, there isn't really any hardware out there that can help me improve that, so I decided to zero in on my second (slightly lesser) shortcoming.
I'm talking about audio.
But everyone has the same audio in any given game, right? Well, that's true, in that the same sound files are being read from the disc. But interpretation means a lot. I'm talking about your speakers, friend. If all you have is a dinky stereo hook-up and maybe a cheap subwoofer, you're in the same boat I was in. Everything just kind of blends together and, with the big bombast of explosions and gunfire all about, the smaller details like footsteps and character voices tend to get drowned out.
So I went out and bought a headset. Speakers are great and all, but a full setup is both expensive and a space hog. It takes up a lot of real estate, so, unless you have a room dedicated to your entertainment (and generally one soundproofed well enough that the rest of the household can sleep while you're playing full blast in a late-night gaming binge), your best bet is to go with a high-quality personal sound system.
I've had experience with a few different options already, but I've had tremendous luck with the Turtle Beach Ear Force line. It was a little over a year back when I picked up a Turtle Beach Ear Force X11. It's not their top model, both wired and lacking Dolby Digital 5.1/7.1 (as well as PS3 support), but it has most of the basic features that make such a headset so important to a gamer. If you want something wireless, with Dolby Digital, and/or for your PS3, they offer those as well.
The first key to the headset, for me, has been the weight. When I'm absorbed in a game, the last thing I want is to get neck strain. Most headsets I've worn are a little too clunky. On top of that, they don't always have a wide enough adjustment range, so it's hard to get them to fit comfortably. My Turtle Beach has neither issue. It's lightweight (but still sturdy) and it adjusts quickly and easily. The ear-pads are made of a soft, cloth-like material that breathes (leather or pleather on a headset looks cool but can be torturous on your ears). This is the sort of headset you may forget you're wearing.
Next, we have the biggest inherent issue with all headsets: most of them are noise-cancelling, so outside noises don't interrupt your immersion. With most headsets, this also means your own voice is blocked out. It's surreal to know you're talking, but to hear it sort of muted in such a way that you're not entirely sure how you sound to the person on the other end. Generally, this results in an ever-escalating war of voices, until you're shouting at your teammates, things best left unsaid get said, and friendships are fractured and left to rot by the roadside.
It's a serious annoyance, at least, and Turtle Beach headsets get around it by piping your voice through the mic into your headset's speakers in real-time. It might seem strange for about thirty seconds, but after using them for a bit, you'll find that going back to any other headset just feels strange. And wrong. Seriously, it's an awesome feature that makes playing online that much better.
Maybe you just don't want to hear anyone else in chat, but you don't want to turn down the game. Or, inversely, you're having trouble hearing your partner over the onscreen craziness of Battlefield 3, or you're trying to coordinate a mission in Saints Row: The Third and stuff is just blowing up everywhere. (Seriously. Even the rickshaws in that game explode.) Turtle Beach headsets have separate game and chat audio dials, allowing you to adjust both to a comfortable level on the fly.
So many of this holiday season's games are predicated on multiplayer. Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 immediately jump to mind, but Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary also has co-op and competitive play. Saints Row: The Third? Co-op campaign and a wave-based enemy-slaughter mode called Whored Mode.
I've never done well in Call of Duty multiplayer and, with Modern Warfare 3 coming out this year, I was a little apprehensive. I'd skipped Black Ops after the Modern Warfare 2 debacle that was my multiplayer performance, but I had a good time reviewing the new game, so I figured I'd try to stick it out for the long haul. It's amazing what a difference being able to tell where an enemy is coming from makes. Does it help when we both round a corner at the same time and I fumble with the iron sights while my opponent calmly unloads a barrage of light SMG fire from his hip into my waiting torso? No. It does, however, usually prevent people from sneaking up on me, and has allowed me to taste the sweet, succulent fruit of victory.
By Shelby Reiches
CCC Senior Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*